Owen Lach’s Jack’s on Fire is a charming, triumphant tale of a queer boy’s journey to find acceptance, community, and love.
I immediately fell in love with Jack Martin, the story’s eponymous main character. Jack’s biting wit and tendency toward hyperawareness, products of his trauma and possible neurodivergence, spoke to me so profoundly that I wondered if Lach had somehow climbed into my head when he crafted this tale. I appreciated that Lach mostly left Jack’s experiences of trauma off the page. Jack is hurt, but the story isn’t about that. It’s about how he recovers to eventually thrive and shine. The blurb’s description of the book as a “modern queer fairytale” is entirely accurate.
Lach thoughtfully depicted Jack’s anxiety and the struggles he faces in coming to terms with his new environment. Then he surrounded Jack with a delightful set of characters, including his loving older brother to his funny, supportive new friends Frankie and Red. But, beyond Jack, Lach saves the most love for Damon (pun intended,) Jack’s seemingly too-good-to-be-true love interest. Damon is such a grounded, down-to-earth character, showcasing an enlightened depiction of modern masculinity and tenderness. The sweetness of Jack and Damon’s relationship dynamic melted my heart more than once. And the will they or won’t they tension in the slow-burn romance is delicious.
By focusing on queer love and joy, Lach has created a wonderfully hopeful story that any questioning or newly-out queer teen will almost certainly want to read.
This book contains light descriptions of racism, homophobia, physical violence, verbal abuse, loss of a parent, and mild, age-appropriate teen sexuality.